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Thirty-five years of helping women in Oshawa

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The Denise House will be celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2019, and in honour of this milesetone it is looking to recognize 35 individuals who have helped to advance its cause.

The Denise House is a women’s shelter where those who are suffering violence and abuse can go to receive the help they need.

Those individuals receiving nominations will have helped raise awareness and support for women in Oshawa who have been the victims of violence or abuse. They may have also advocated for the prevention of violence and abuse in local communities. Sandra McCormack, the Executive Director at the Denise House, says that the celebration of its 35th anniversary is bittersweet.

“It’s wonderful that we’ve been in this community for 35 years assisting women and kids to gain the strength the make some changes in their life,” says McCormack. “I think the bitter part of it is that after 35 years and counting, we’re still having to help and support women flee violence and abuse in their lives.”

The shelter has been around since August 1984, when it was a smaller shelter with 10 beds named Auberge. After its inception, the shelter operated at full capacity with a lengthy waiting list. Due to this, another house was opened that had 15 beds.

The name of the shelter comes from an unfortunate place, as it was renamed “Denise House” after a former resident named Denise Penny was murdered in 1988. In order to recognize the life of a woman who had made an impact on their shelter, the shelter was named in her memory.

A permanent memorial to Penny can be found at the Denise House.

On July 25, 1991, the shelter received an expansion that allows for a total of 27 women and children to receive accommodations at the Denise House. According to their website, the Denise House’s mission statement is: “The Denise House exists to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment to abused women and their children in Durham Region and strives to provide integrated, anti-racist, anti-oppression services to empower the diversity of all women to choose their own future. The Denise House further exists to educate the public at large about issues resulting from the abuse, oppression and discrimination of women and their children.” Those who work at the shelter value safety, empowerment, community and accountability for the women and children who stay there. McCormack hopes to gain more space at the shelter, as well as make it more accessible to those who have mobility issues.

McCormack says that there have been many positive changes in Oshawa since the Denise House first opened. She says, “There’s a huge network of partnerships with other services and agencies that we can refer women to, or we can obtain referrals from them so that a woman can touch any one of those systems going through this process in her life. Those partnerships are important to us as an agency, and very very important to the women themselves.”